Since the release of her 2010 debut Sincerely Yours, a lot has changed in the life of the accomplished songwriter (Rihanna’s “Cheers”, Britney Spear’s “Blur”) and fast-rising singer Stacy Barthe. Nowhere is that more evident than in her music. While the pain and heartache shared candidly on Sincerely Yours struck a chord with critics from Billboard and Fader and even got Barthe her current deal at John Legend’s Homeschool Records, the Brooklyn-born songstress promises that the EP’s follow-up, P.S. I Love You, will reflect the brighter, happier place that her life is currently in. One reason for Barthe’s newfound optimism is next month’s BET Music Matters Tour, on which she’ll be joining her label mate, Estelle. Another is the fact that her success has run concurrent with the successes of close friends and collaborators Frank Ocean and G.O.O.D. Music producer Hit Boy, all three of whom find themselves front row and center as leading members of music’s new school. BET.com caught up with Barthe to talk about all of that as well as the triumph of Sincerely Yours, the pain that inspired it and the joy that is clearly on the horizon for 2012.
BET.com: The BET Music Matters Tour will be your first major tour. Are you scared or do you feel you’re ready?
Stacy Barthe: I’m not scared, I just honestly don’t know what to expect. So I’m kind of just going with the flow and letting go and letting God. Performing is what I love to do, and it’s with friends — Luke James is actually a really good friend of mine, and me and Estelle are label mates — so I’m amongst family and friends.
You were able to use your songwriting to break into the music industry; does that writing background give you a creative advantage over other artists?
I feel like perspective is super important, especially in music now and like the last couple years. A lot of artists have been identity-less because everybody’s looking for the same thing, that instant hit. I feel like the artists that are seeping through now have a perspective. Everyone’s an individual. So I think it’s important to be able to write. I don’t think I have an upper hand or advantage, but I love the fact that I can express myself exactly how I’m feeling and I don’t have to rely on somebody to help me bring that point across.
It seems these days that songwriting is the path of a lot of our greatest artists, from yourself, to Frank Ocean to The-Dream. What is it like to make that transition from "behind the curtain" to front and center?
I can speak for both Frank and I because that’s a really dear friend of mine, as well. It’s from being told no. Being told that you should just take the (songwriter) route and write for artists and maybe one day have a hit and then have an album. I had somebody tell me that I wouldn’t ever be able to have an album out unless I have a #1 single on somebody. Well, Rhianna’s “Cheers” wasn’t number one, but it peaked at number seven and I had put out Sincerely Yours shortly after that. But no one cared about that. It was a piece of work that just came from the heart and I was rehabilitating myself through Sincerely Yours. So all of that music came out of angst and it came out of a place where I was tired of making music that didn’t matter. It had no substance, it had no ... I wasn’t connected to it. It was more about placing a record rather than about speaking from the heart. So how I made transition is basically by flipping the bird to everybody and just doing it.
You mentioned your relationship with Frank Ocean and the two of you actually collaborated on “Without You” together. How did the two of you meet in the first place?
I met him when he was writing “Love Me Quickly” for John Legend and Brandy. And I heard that song and was like, “Who wrote that? This song is brilliant!” I was just blown away. The lyrics were so moving. We were kind of hanging in the same circle through Midi Mafia and just became cool out of our mutual respect for one another’s craft … Prior to him being Frank Ocean, that was just my homie. So, at the time (we recorded “Without You”), it was way before Nostalgia, Ultra, it was way before Sincerely Yours. We both were on the grind, you know what I mean? I was in the studio with Hit Boy from the Surf Club and we were just vibing and we just came up with that. And after that, he was the homie.
Looking at the landscape of great young artists, you seem to be homies with a lot of the field. From Frank to Hit Boy, what’s it like to look around your circle of friends and be surrounded by success?
I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time because all these relationships were cultivated through us just being cool and all of us having a common goal. We just trying to make it. It’s amazing to see all of everybody having their successes, including myself. I’m really proud of us. Like, we’re the next graduating class, you know what I mean?
Frank’s breakthrough was Nostalgia, Ultra, which came out of nowhere to take the music world by surprise last year. Sincerely Yours did a similar thing for your career. What were your expectations when releasing the project?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t put it out with any expectations. Just from the relationships that I had already built from being a songwriter, my friends just supported it and loved it and tweeted about it and wrote about it and it got to the likes of Billboard and Fader. It was just really coming from the heart because at the time that I created it, it was a really volatile point in my life. So when I released it, it was more of a spiritual release as well as, this is my debut.
Using music as a release is common, but this EP seemed to be really cathartic. Is that release always your goal when you’re writing?
I am able to pretty much write about whatever’s goin’ on in my life. Those songs were songs that I was trying to shop to other artists. I didn’t even know that those songs were mine. I just was in a vibe and I was hurting. So, I kind of just expressed it through music.
Not to pry, but can you elaborate on the pains?
It was a little bit of everything. It was a compilation of things that were really sad, from being a songwriter and not being paid to do work where you’re expected to show up on time and do all these things, but you don’t get paid. It’s not like a producer, they pay the producer in advance, but you have to wait to see if the record places on the album, if the record stays on the album, if the album even comes out, and pray that it’s a single. You have to wait at least 18 months to see a turn-around. I was a struggling songwriter. When I wrote “Cheers” for Rihanna, I didn’t have a ride to get to the studio. So it was a culmination of that along with the fact I had weight issues, I wasn’t happy with myself, and just life. It was a haze … It’s all of that. And I think my biggest thing in life was I always wanted to be liked and loved in the way that I want to be loved.
You’ve done a good job of leaving all of those negatives in the past, what should we expect in what looks to be a bright future for you?
I’m about to put out another EP, it’s called In The In Between and it’s produced mostly by this man named Dapo. He produced my previous EP and he and I have amazing chemistry, he’s like a musical genius. It’s my transition between Sincerely Yours and P.S. I Love You. It’s kind of wrapping up that love story into P.S. I Love You, which is lighter and in a way [a] happier place. It’s representing where I am in life now. I feel great about myself, I’m making music and you can see a growth in my life. On February 6th that will be out, and then I’m getting ready to find a home label-wise. It’s gonna be through John Legend and Universal Motown. Everything’s just coming so sporadically, so I know what I have planned musically and I’m just excited to see how people embrace it.
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(Photo: Charles Thompson / Universal Music)